I don’t know whether it’s because it’s Dai Young’s second spell in charge at Cardiff, or whether it’s because the last year has been besieged by covid interruptions and now bad weather, but it feels like the big man has been back as Director of Rugby at the Arms Park a lot longer than 14 months.
Because of that it seems as if he should have his squad close to settled by now, but actually Young is only just getting to grips with the playing staff at his disposal, and we know it will take some time as I’ve previously looked at the impact of changing contract terms from the start of the coronavirus pandemic in terms of particularly player departures.
Despite that some solid progress has started to be made with the signings of Thomas Young, Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams, the departures of Ben Murphy, Sam Moore and Lewis Jones, and Olly Robinson and Alun Lawrence heading out on loan with the thought process being that those deals may be a pre-cursor to leaving permanently come the summer.
However, many are still waiting for alterations to the tight five where Cardiff have consistently struggled over the past almost-decade now. Second row has long been an under-powered area of the pitch, with the likes of Bradley Davies and Paul Tito never properly replaced, while hooker has lacked a physical presence since Matthew Rees’ retirement.
Now as I understand it, supporters should not hold our breath over any additions to the second row or hooker ranks ahead of next season, with quality additions at lock that properly address our needs being unaffordable for Cardiff as things stand.
Meanwhile at hooker the issue lies around the fact that current first team hookers Kirby Myhill, Liam Belcher, Kris Dacey and Iestyn Harris are all believed to be under contract until at least the summer of 2023, leaving little or no room for financial dealings in that area. Fortunately though, Dai Young has yet another trick up his sleeve.
So far in his second stint at the club, in a bid to wring every last bit of quality out of the existing squad, he has successfully identified a number of players who are capable of playing in different positions. Owen Lane has finally started making the move into the centre, Ben Thomas looked assured switching to full-back and, most successfully, James Ratti has earned a Wales call-up playing at number eight.
The latest experiment sees tighthead prop Keiron Assiratti making a switch along the front row into the hooker position, appearing in that role off the bench for the Rags twice since the turn of the year, and almost making a first team appearance there but for the weather causing the Zebre game to be postponed.
Of course video evidence of Assiratti’s abilities at hooker are minimal, but on the basis of these two clips it seems as if there is a basic level of lineout throwing there that can be worked with, especially with former hookers Duane Goodfield and T Rhys Thomas on the first team coaching staff.
With respect to the Rags and the Indigo Group Premiership as a whole it is a completely different kettle of fish throwing in at a semi-professional game in front of a few hundred spectators versus nailing a lineout in a Welsh derby at a packed Arms Park or away at Thomond Park at the business end of a season, but the 24-year-old’s conversion must start somewhere and the evidence is he has made a good start.
Beyond that the next key element for Assiratti will be scrummaging, and as a tighthead prop moving across it is a fair assumption that he will have the transferrable skills needed to flourish in this area and give Cardiff a boost at the scrum time that we need to go from a solid outfit to a destructive one, even without that heavy scrummaging lock option.
Around the field we have known since he broke into the first team that he has the engine and athleticism to be a ball carrying, ruck hitting and high tackle count option in open play, but with Dillon Lewis and Dmitri Arhip ahead of him in the tighthead ranks, Will Davies-King looking like he has jumped into third choice and Nathan Evans impressing for Wales U20, a switch into the number two jersey may well be ideal for him.
It won’t be an easy switch, and Assiratti will have to make great strides in the immediate future with Belcher, Dacey and Harris all currently sidelined in order to maintain game time once they are back fit, but if it pays off then the scrummaging upside is massive for the Blue and Blacks, as well as potentially alleviating the need for recruitment at hooker allowing resources to be put into the second row hunt.
What next for Dai? Well, maybe Max Llewellyn could slot in as a crash ball scrum-half, or Seb Davies could possibly be the ready made replacement for Rey Lee-Lo? Anything is possible!